12 Things You Didn’t Realize You Could Do to Pay off Debt
When the phrase “It’s fun to” comes up in conversation, it’s probably not followed by “pay off credit card debt.”
Paying off debt is associated with living under a rock, eating ramen noodles and cutting the bottom off your toothpaste tube to get the last bit — none of which are very “fun.”
But here’s the thing: Paying off debt doesn’t have to be boring. It doesn’t even mean reverting to listening to concerts from outside the venue and eating your friend’s leftovers from your favorite restaurant.
Here’s How to Pay off Credit Card Debt and Still Have a Life
Achieving freedom from debt just means getting creative with the resources available to you. And we love getting creative. Here are some clever ways to pay off your credit card debt without giving up fun.
1. Figure out Exactly What You Owe
When’s the last time you looked at all your debts and their interest rates to devise a payoff plan?
A really easy way to do this is to get a “credit report card” from Credit Sesame.
Credit Sesame is like your favorite teacher from high school — without the pop quizzes.
It gives you a free credit score, plus lays out your credit history so you can see exactly how much money you owe and to whom. It even tells you your monthly payments and interest rate, as well as which debts (if any) are in collections.
And you don’t have to stay home to do it. The Credit Sesame app lets you keep track of your credit score and ways to improve it — on the go!
Did you know your score is affected by how much you use your credit card, even if you always pay it off? Your utilization should stay below 30% of your available credit — but the lower the better!
James Cooper, a motivational speaker, raised his credit score 277 points using Credit Sesame. Now he talks to high school students about the importance of having good credit and uses what he’s learned through Credit Sesame as a blueprint for his lessons.
“We want to touch the Z Generation,” Cooper says “We’re not in the business of fixing credit. We want to get to you before you have to fix your credit.”
2. This Company Will Help You Lower Your Interest Rates
A lot of us are being crushed by credit card interest rates north of 20%. If you’re in that boat, consolidation and refinancing might be worth a look.
A good resource is Fiona, a search engine for financial services, which can help match you with the right personal loan to meet your needs.
Fiona searches the top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer in less than 60 seconds. If your credit score is at least 620, its platform can help you borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 3.84% and terms from 24 to 84 months.
Take, for example, Katherine, who faced $12,000 in credit-card debt. Holding her back? The 15.24% interest rate. By refinancing with a 5%-interest, seven-year personal loan, she saved $12,000 in interest.
If she’d kept on the same road, she would have paid something like $14,000 in interest alone over 25 years. Yikes.
So even if you’re simply curious about what’s out there, know that checking rates on Fiona won’t hurt your credit score — and can probably save you in interest.
3. Find out If You’re Paying Too Much for Car Insurance
You’re probably overpaying for car insurance. And how would you know, really?
Have you shopped around lately? Have you compared rates from the 20 largest auto insurers that do business in your area? That sounds kind of difficult and time-consuming, doesn’t it?
Fortunately, a service called Gabi will do it for you, and you don’t even have to fill out any forms. Simply link your insurance account and provide your driver’s license number, and Gabi will go to work.
Once you link your insurance account to Gabi, it will:
- Scan your existing insurance plan.
- Analyze what coverage you have.
- Compare the major insurers’ rates for that same coverage.
- Help you switch on the spot if it finds you a better rate.
It is a true apples-to-apples comparison at the same coverage levels and deductibles you currently have. Once you sign up, you never have to shop again. Gabi’s software has your policy on file and keeps on monitoring for savings as your life changes.
Gabi says it finds an average savings of $720 per year for its customers. Before you spend it all in one place, how about using it to reduce some credit card debt?
4. Withdraw Cash From the ATM on Monday
There are always those weeks — the ones where you promise you’ll pack a lunch for work then end up eating out each day.
Now, we’re not saying only eat soggy leftovers all week. But if you have trouble staying on track — whether it’s coffee, lunch, dinner or all the snacks — set yourself a spending limit and take exactly that amount from the ATM on Monday. Then, only spend that throughout the week. Once the cash is gone, it’s back to leftovers.
5. Tired of Racking up Debt? Let This Card Give You Cash Back, Instead
Those cash-back credit cards are wicked cool, aren’t they?
But they can’t be quite dangerous. One minute you’re racking up rewards and the next minute you’re getting a nasty surprise in the form of interest and annual fees.
We found another option, though.
It’s called the Aspiration Spend and Save Account. This online account comes with a debit card that gets you 0.5% cash back on purchases. It basically turns your debit card into a cash-back card.
The average total cost of taking cash from an out-of-network ATM is $4.68. If you do this about once a week, switching accounts could save you almost $240 per year.
Here’s what Aspiration offers:
- You get your cash back, obviously. (Bonus!)
- The debit card comes with no ATM fees, so you can use any ATM you want.
- It pays up to 2.00% APY on your savings.
- The company also offers two investment funds for middle-class investors. These require only a $100 minimum investment.
You can even use the all the rewards you’re racking up to pay down your credit card debt down even faster!
6. Find Hidden Money in Your Inbox
It turns out deleting your emails could be costing you money. Intrigued?
One of our secret weapons is called Paribus — a tool that gets you money back for your online purchases. It’s free to sign up, and once you do, it will scan your email for any receipts. If it discovers you’ve purchased something from one of its monitored retailers, it will track the item’s price and help you get a refund when there’s a price drop.
To save time, mom and blog manager Aimee B. does the majority of her shopping online — about 90% of it, she estimates. She stocks up on groceries, clothes and household necessities without leaving home.
In the past two years, Paribus has found Aimee $1,315.41 in savings while shopping online.
“It really is as simple as giving your email address,” she says. “It’s kind of a no-brainer.”
Disclosure: Paribus compensates us when you sign up using the links we provide.
7. Lower the Interest Rate On Your Student Loans
For some, a lower interest rate could be one of the best steps to paying off student loans.
Try getting a lower interest rate on your federal and private loans by refinancing with a company like Credible. Other companies offer similar services, but we like that the average Credible user saves about two interest points on their current federal loans.
Refinancing will generally mean replacing your laundry list of loans with one (or a few) loans that bring all of your student debt under one umbrella.
This could simplify your life with one monthly payment, instead of several. It may also lower your monthly payment, improve your interest rate and/or give you more time to pay.
It might seem like a small difference, but a lower interest rate can mean a lot of savings over time. It’s helping grad Ashley Williams save more than $18,000 in interest over the life of her loan!
8. Try Starving and Stacking
Don’t worry. You can still eat. The starve and stack budgeting method is geared toward couples, especially newlyweds. Couples combine their finances and live exclusively off one income for 18 to 24 months.
Use the additional income to invest, establish a rainy day fund and pay off debt. That’s what Penny Hoarder Jen Smith did. She and her husband practiced the starve and stack method for two years and were able to pay off $78,000 in debt.
9. Cash in on Your Used Items
Are your closets and shelves packed to the brim with stuff you never use — or even look at? It might be time to rip a page out of Marie Kondo’s book and do some tidying up.
When you’re ready to part ways with the items that don’t spark joy, use The Penny Hoarder method to make some extra cash (read: more money to reduce your debt) by selling your items.
Don’t know where to start? Try Letgo — an app that lets you sell virtually anything. This intuitive app lets you snap a photo and upload your item in less than 30 seconds. It removes a lot of the hassle of selling things online, and it’s 100% free to use.
Pro tip: Don’t accept a check, cashier’s check or gift card as payment. Ask for cash or have the buyer pay you through the app (no commission fees!).
It only takes about two minutes to list your first item on Letgo, so get a head start on your #tidyingupchallenge to start reducing your debt.
10. Search for Unclaimed Money
State treasuries throughout the U.S. have more than $43 billion in unclaimed funds, according to The New York Times. Just sitting around! Waiting for you to come play lost and found.
In 2017, one South Carolina man hit the jackpot. He got a phone call from his state treasurer letting him know he was entitled to $763,000 in unclaimed money. That’s, like, 63 years of rent.
We advise you to be careful of calls like this; they could be scams. But you can take matters into your own hands and see if you have any unclaimed money floating around.
Check with the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. Click your state on the map, and it’ll redirect you to your state’s appropriate search site. (Beware: There are several look-a-like sites out there. Be sure you’re searching legitimate ones.)
Penny Hoarder reader Kelli Howell heeded our advice, performed a quick search, and found unclaimed money in her husband’s name.
“As I was scrolling through, I saw his name and his middle initial,” she says. She asked him to confirm his old Florida address; he grew up in Tampa. Sure enough, Mark Howell was entitled to $56 from a “matured insurance policy.”
Kelli immediately searched her other family members’ names. Her husband was the only who had any money to claim. And, sure, it’s $56, but that’s not bad for an unexpected check, right? We’ll take it!
11. File a Claim and Use the Cash to Pay Down Your Debt
If you use a product that’s involved in a class-action lawsuit, a little online sleuthing could get you a cash payout.
The rules of each settlement are different, but in most cases you’ll have to provide proof of purchase or product use, like a serial number or a receipt. Once you fill out your online claim form, you may have to wait a few weeks or months before receiving your payment.
And depending on the size of the class and the settlement, it could mean just a few dollars, like the Red Bull settlement a few years back, or more than $1,000, like the Dish Network case.
Psst — we regularly post new class-action settlement information, so check in often to make sure you’re not missing a chance to get paid!
12. Negotiate Your Credit Card Interest
Did you know you can call your credit card company and attempt to haggle your interest rates down? This would allow you to put more money toward the sum that’s actually owed — and could save you thousands in the long run (without refinancing!).
If you don’t feel like sitting on hold and playing hardball, leave it to an expert negotiator.
Trim is a personal finance assistant that offers a debt-payoff service. One of its features? Your very own debt negotiator. Yup — you’ll hop on a three-way call with the negotiator and your credit card company to see if you can cut down those crazy interest rates.
How much you’ll save will depend on the credit card company and your credit, but Trim says it saves clients an average of $1,169 in annual interest.
The payoff service costs $10 a month and also includes a customized payoff plan, personalized advice and a debt coach. There’s a 90-day money-back guarantee, so if you’re not happy, you can always request a refund.